The Interrobang, Symbol of WTF Culture

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interrobang_600.jpg
Meet the interrobang. Unless you happen to be a typographic expert, you probably haven't encountered the hybrid question mark-exclamation point. It was actually invented in the early 1960s by ad exec Martin Speckter but as language researcher Anne Trubek suggested last year, it just might be the symbol of our times.


I discovered the interrobang, and I have been thinking about it all week. And no, not because I am a grammar nerd, but because I think [the interrobang] may just sum up something about our clever yet confused culture...

Might we describe our current cultural zeitgeist as surprise superimposed over curiosity,  mixed together with attitude? Is the interrobang a 1960s, type-based version of WTF?  Is the interrobang a 1960s, type-based version of WTF?  A certain informal, witty, knowing, WTF way of approaching the world? Many clever Facebook status updates and comments could be defined, as Wikipedia does the interrobang, as "A sentence ending with an interrobang (1) asks a question in an excited manner, (2) expresses excitement or disbelief in the form of a question, or (3) asks a rhetorical question."

By now, I assume that you're sold on using the interrobang in your next Powerpoint (or getting it as your next tattoo), so you should know how to find it. If you've got Microsoft Word, it's hiding in the Wingdings 2 font. Hit shift+6 and you'll see the zeitgeist mark appear.

One last thought on the interrobang: does anyone know how I could search for a piece of punctuation like this? Google says it ignores most punctuation, and I'm assuming Microsoft works the same way. I think most OCR systems do filter out non-standard punctuation.


Case in point: This is a screen capture from the New York Times online obituary of Speckter. The interrobang has been erased from the obituary of its inventor.

interrobang_nyt2.jpgVia @Electric_Lit
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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com, where he also oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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